| SYDNEY/CAIRO: An Australian journalist who was held in Egypt on suspicion of paying Egyptians to stage protests against the authorities Tuesday denied the claims and told how he could hear prisoners being tortured.|
Freelance reporter Austin Mackell was freed on Monday along with a US student, Derek Ludovici, and their Egyptian translator, Aliya Alwi, after two days in detention.
They had been picked up in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla on Saturday, the same day school and university students held strikes to mark the first anniversary of ex-president Hosni Mubarak's overthrow.
General Mostafa Baz, police chief of the northern Gharbiya province, claimed they coordinated over the internet to meet in Mahalla, which has a history of labor strikes, to "incite people to protest".
Mackell said this was nonsense.
"This is the standard line: that the people who are protesting, that the people who are fighting for their rights in any regard, are actually being paid by foreign agents," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"This is the line that state TV has run with on a number of occasions in similar cases, and it's what happened with us as well."
The Cairo-based reporter, who has been in Egypt for around a year, said he was simply doing his job, hoping to meet with Kamal Al-Fayoumi, a prominent union figure.
Al-Fayoumi and a driver who was with them were also held but later released, a security official said.
He said he was moved several times during his detention and could hear people being tortured in the cells surrounding his, with a police officer at one point showing him mobile phone footage of the army torturing somebody.
"Nothing was off limits to them," he said.
"From the way I was treated as opposed to the people I could hear being tortured in the room next to me, one thing was clear: that as a foreigner my rights and the safety of my person is still more valued by the authorities than that of an Egyptian citizen."
On Saturday, Alwi said on her Twitter account that they were being charged with inciting protests and vandalism.
"Witnesses have been produced to confirm it," she wrote. "Report against us, filed now. Many witnesses saw us 'offering money to youth to vandalize and cause chaos.'"
She later tweeted that they were being handed over to intelligence services.
"(Mackell) has confirmed he is being treated appropriately by local police authorities. He confirmed his intention to engage a legal representative," an Australian foreign office spokeswoman had said Saturday.
The Egyptian authorities, including the ruling military which took charge after Mubarak was ousted, have accused foreigners of stirring unrest in Egypt which has seen a spate of deadly protests over past months.
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